Hope from the backward glance
by Patrick Lafferty
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
I confess: it's a premeditated prayer. Whenever I have the privilege of conducting a wedding rehearsal, it's been my practice at the conclusion of the brief run-through that I have the bride and groom gather at the front. There I ask their family and friends to encircle them, lay hands on them, and pray for them and their marriage.
When the prayers by others taper off, I conclude with my own prayer, asking each and every time that God would do something for this couple some 50 or 60 years from now, after a long life of marriage: that He would give them tears of thanksgiving. That, as they make it a point to reflect upon their decades-long sojourn as a married couple, He would help them see His fingerprints upon their common life, in both the triumphant and tumultuous moments. And as a consequence they would look back with immeasurable gratitude—for each other, of course, but more so for their recognition He made each of them more like Him as a consequence of their life with each other. It's my version of a christening prayer for their marriage.
Now that I've revealed my practice, I hope those whom I've married won't think less of what may have seemed to them the product of sheer spiritual spontaneity! But the invitation to remembrance, whether prompted or planned, is always valid and always profitable. Lest we forget, the Lord invited us to a meal with remembrance as the dominant effort in our eating of His body and blood.
Zaccheus, with whom Mark reacquainted us last Sunday, passes out of the New Testament storyline as quickly as he enters. But his cameo appearance serves to reveal another reason why Jesus came to earth—as He explains, "to seek and save the lost." We don't know what became of Zaccheus, but it's a reasonable inference to think that his encounter with Jesus would have made for an indelible and formative memory. Zaccheus would've remembered what Jesus did to seek him out, and what His very person and presence had done to save him.
To seek the diminutive publican, Jesus would've had to notice him and draw near to him. To look past both the corruption of the tax collector's own heart and the revulsion of those who knew his fraudulent ways. Seeking Zaccheus would have demanded setting aside all internal and external prejudices.
Saving Zaccheus would have entailed exposing the folly of his former way and awakening him to the beauty of Jesus' good way. Salvation would mean the transformation of an ethic, to be sure. But the transformation would rest upon an even more fundamental change in how Zaccheus understood the holiness and love of God. Fear of the consequences would never be enough to dissuade this little man from continuing to defraud others with impunity. A new principled and disciplined life could only be sustained by a deeply implanted sense of the justice and mercy of God—demonstrated in and accomplished by this itinerant teacher who either incensed or captivated those who encountered Him. Salvation for Zaccheus would've meant not just a change in status but a change in stature—and not of the physical kind. Zaccheus would've remembered this watershed moment. He would have wanted to and needed to.
Which leads me to ask you—and myself for that matter: Have you ever sought to remember how Christ sought you out? By what words, in whose faces, through which experiences did Jesus come to be part of your pilgrimage toward that elusive search for what is good and worthy of this precious thing called life? What in you did He have to look past to make you part of His plan? There may not have been any epiphanic moments that bound you to Him, like a man or woman plucked from a burning building reveres the fireman who risked himself to rescue. But there are bound to be a litany of either whispers or sirens, hailing from those you love or those you'd never met before, that signaled a beckoning. A beckoning not unlike what a defiled man received from One who asked to dine with him and then offered him living water.
And while you're wracking your brain to remember how He sought you, I ask the complementary question: From what has He saved you? That is, what impurities, as a mark of having been forgiven all your sin, has He labored to distill out of you? How has His work of salvation for you managed to work the life of salvation in you?
Your first thought is likely "Let's talk first about all that He must still rescue me from." Doubtless the list of incongruities of soul fills our minds and overwhelms us with the same angst Paul bemoans: "who shall deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24) But as surely as there is work left to do (Philippians 3:12), there has been work already done in us and for us. What folly and futility to which you've been prone has He unmasked? What affections for the fleetingly unsatisfying has He redirected toward what is more substantial, enlivening, and holy? And most importantly, in what ways has Christ the redeemer redeemed your view of His love? Yes, the remembrance inevitably reveals vast terrain to cover in our pilgrimage toward maturity. Catching but a glimpse of that ground already covered reminds us of the even greater truth that He is with us in this, and will not let us go no matter how slow or plodding the pace (Romans 8:39).
Giving time to these questions has a purpose beyond mere recollecting. It's our memory of how He has sought us and from what He has saved us that galvanizes our hope and encourages us for our remaining days (Psalm 90:12). Gratitude is its own satisfaction, but does it not also have the dual effect of keeping our hearts both soft to what is good and steeled for what afflicts?
For those about to marry, I pray for a future moment that they would look backward, and find gratitude. For you, this day, I pray you would look backward to find a gratitude that yields a hopeful future.